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Nuts & Bolts

August 7, 2012

Slate: Silver medalists should stand taller at the podium

On Friday, Cuban shooter Leuris Pupo took gold in the Olympics' 25-meter rapid fire pistol event. Though Pupo could look down at both his vanquished foes, silver medalist Vijay Kumar stood at the same level as the man he beat out for second place, bronze winner Ding Feng.

Why don't silver medalists — who ran faster, jumped higher, threw further — get to tower over third-place finishers? Because the International Olympic Committee doesn't allow it. The designers of London 2012's purple podiums, a group that calls itself The Kims of Design, told me via e-mail that parity between the silver and bronze platforms was mandated by the IOC.

There is a long history of silver and bronze medalists looking each other in the eye at the Olympics. The 1932 Lake Placid Games started the tradition, when then-IOC president Count Henri de Baillet-Latour stated that the Winter Olymics' bi-level podium design "worked very well that way."

The 1932 Los Angeles Games featured a central podium in Memorial Coliseum in which the gold-medal winner stood alone at the top, with the silver and bronze medalists at the same height below. It was the same story at Berlin 1936. After the two World Wars canceled the next two Olympics, did anything change when the games came back to London in 1948? No, it did not. It was the same story at the Summer Games in 1952, 1956, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, and 1976.

Prospects for podium reform wouldn't seem too great at the 1980 Moscow Games, which were boycotted by the United States. Though a Communist nation would seem an unlikely candidate to place athletes in different strata, the Soviets' Summer Games did indeed make the move to vertically differentiate bronze and silver. And the height change stuck at the Communist-organized 1984 Sarajevo Winter Games, which featured a lovely overlapping podium design.

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